New Normal

Walking through the city in late March, the cherry blossoms are out. The sun gains warmth with each day. It calls to us, invites us outside. But we are asked to stay inside, to avoid our friends and family. To isolate and social distance. I am heading to my community garden plot and the city feels ominous in a way it never has before. Some businesses have covered windows, in an attempt to curb the recent increase in thefts. Most places are closed, signs in the window letting us know to find them online. The streets are nearly empty, people seem to be taking the state of emergency more seriously. A welcome change from stories of people throwing parties “because they are young and immune” or pushing seniors to the ground to spit at them for reminding people to distance.

There is another woman at the garden, I see her from time to time. Each time she tells me how hard she finds all this; she is in her late 60s or early 70s and has told me she hasn’t much experience with technology. Virtual life is not for her she says. She is used to being outside nearly every day, and I can’t blame her for going a little stir crazy. We chat for a minute six feet apart, she asks me again “how long do you think this will go on for?”. I want to reassure her, but I can’t the truth is it could be weeks, or it could be months. We won’t really know until we come to the end. So, I tell her to hang in there, remind her that the park is ok, but to stay away from groups of people. There is no smile on her face with this answer, just slightly less tension.

The new normal has crept up around the city. Ghost town feelings have begun to drift away as the weather warms up people are out again, walking in the park, in the street, but from a safe distance. Still, things do not feel normal, or comfortable by any means and as we enter our fifth week, cabin fever has begun to seep in. My husbands work has slowed and some weeks he doesn’t work, so I see him more and more as I work from my little home office. The space which once felt roomy and light begins to feel smaller, I find myself closing the office door more often to be alone a little. We find ourselves in a strange kind of isolation – missing social contact but feeling too much of one’s house mates or close family. Suddenly the lack of balcony or yard is a point of contention – how could we be such fools?

Only a few short months ago we gathered with friends, feasting the night away as we rang in the new decade. Such promise ahead, I reflect now, how had I not heard of this impending doom? Apparently, we knew since December, I know when I initially heard the news I didn’t take it seriously. I even scorned my teenage niece for spreading mis-information on her social media, she is probably chuckling now – she wasn’t entirely wrong, and I was being arrogant. So where do we find ourselves now? I arm myself with gloves and hand sanitizer, consciousness seems heightened I am more aware of every item or surface I touch. Who knows what could be lurking on that door handle, shopping cart or package of toilet paper? We apply for EI and emergency funding to make sure the bills keep getting paid, at least I can still work from home. I want to tell myself not to think about it, but that won’t help me now, the plexiglass shields, spaced lineups and 6 million EI claims are there to remind me. We are dealing with something out of the ordinary.

When things began the threat felt imminent, we glued ourselves to the TV, listening to daily 11am live-streams from the prime minister. Waiting to see if our efforts to distance will have made a difference and flattened the curve. For weeks, every talk show and media outlet was spouting “flattening the curve”, from something none of us had to heard of to words which echo in all our minds as we isolate. Weeks in limbo, not knowing day to day whether the other shoe would drop and our precarious situation might come crumbling down. Within my work, reports came in one week – we were to prepare for a surge. Thankfully it didn’t come in our area, instead we saw it come to Quebec and Ontario. Though nothing compared to the Americans, the strain began to be felt in ways more tangible than a run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

I find myself pushing back the daily worries that go beyond the threat of illness; what of our economy, of our small businesses? How long can we all hold on like this before it becomes safe to have things up and running, for that matter can we continue like this? All we can really hope is that some good can come of all this, perhaps as a wider society we will find out truths in how we changed things which will have a lasting positive effect. Maybe the idea of universal basic income won’t seem so crazy after this, or maybe we will see that our economy needs to diversify and to be more self sufficient instead of relying of foreign manufacturing. I hope that some of those things have a chance to be highlighted, or at least the reasons why they are important. The ill effects of global habits and patterns are on display. We stopped making things ourselves – now we find ourselves having potential shortages from places where the pandemic is worse. We rely heavily on a few large industries to keep us going, and now they want bailouts because travel is limited. Will we learn our lessons? Time will tell.

To a food critic

For 38 years Joanne Kates was the food critic for the Globe and Mail. Growing up Kates’ weekly restaurant reviews kept me entertained despite the fact she was writing about places I wasn’t likely to ever visit. Although it was difficult to pick one, the review of Aria is a strong representation of her writing style. It is a demonstration of the skills she honed during her long career. This review is a classic example of her no-nonsense style of writing that aims to give the reader a clear a picture of the restaurant as possible.  Some key aspects of the writing style stand out as indicators of an engaging and informative review. She references “research”, gives detailed description of food and integrates comparisons between other restaurants, as well as relating these to her own past experiences.

Joanne Kates’ “research”, comes from her habit of visiting each restaurant more than once. This is an attempt to ensure the restaurant’s consistency and form a fully analysed opinion of her experiences. Descriptions of food may seem to be an obvious feature to include, however, I want to emphasize the quality of description. When something is good, you as the reader, might feel your mouth beginning to water at the descriptions of the delicious meal. On the other hand, if the food was terrible or subpar the reader is equally engrossed in wondering, just how bad can it really be? This is not simply an accounting of what was eaten but the emotions that went along with the meal. As someone who has had occasional meals that left me speechless and totally lost in my meal, emotions are important.

Finally, comparisons between the restaurant in question and others which may be similar (or in this case related to) allow readers to get a better sense of the type of food as well as the expected quality. As an added bonus, most of Kates’ reviews also include an anecdote which relates to the restaurant. In the opening of the review the reader is usually given a small taste of what is to come in the article. In this example, her own experience of skills transference is referenced and she points out that in her case the skills in question did not end up being transferable. The same goes for Aria vs. Noce. The original and far superior restaurant, apparently did not translate well into its more contemporary “spawn”.

A review (by me, for a class) of a review by Joanne Kates – Aria’s food is far from pitch perfect

Languages

When we are young, so much is open and possible. It was as a toddler that I picked up my own first and second language more or less simultaneously. English from my parents was first but Romanian came from my grandmother who didn’t speak English. As such I didn’t chose to learn it so much as it was taught to me before I even knew what language was.

I have heard many people say “I can’t learn languages” in much the same way they might say they can’t draw or paint, to which I will always respond that it’s less about ability and more about the opportunity to learn. Any kind of learning we do, has, at its core, our willingness to open up and forget the judgments most of us carry. That is what makes learning as a child so much easier, because children  don’t put limits on themselves, so everything appears possible. As adults we carry baggage and doubts about failure which are often unfounded or inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. So, to begin learning a language you need to get back to that neutral and open mindset and accept that you may not be perfect but that you will be able to achieve what you set out to do. Consider the learning environment.  If you fail at learning a new language will it have a huge impact on you? Will the reality you know be altered significantly if you don’t manage to speak Spanish perfectly? The answer is usually no, and hopefully that will take off some of the pressure and make learning more enjoyable.

Next comes goal setting. Toddlers don’t really plan to learn or set goals, they just do it. However, as adults this process will always be a little different, and one has to take into consideration all other impacts in your life and how much time you can give to learning a new language. Find time each day and make sure you keep up with practice regularly much as you would work away at things growing up.

Once you have the time allocated, immersion and actual lessons can start. Enroll in a class, find a conversation buddy or download a language app. Then as you progress through your classes work, give some time to finding ways to immerse yourself and use your new vocabulary outside of the lesson setting. Label things in your house, in the way early school adds picture cards of the alphabet around a classroom to teach reading. Label your cupboards, your food and your household items where possible, and look at them every day and repeat the words. Add more as your vocabulary increases. Make sure to write out everything phonetically to remind yourself of the correct pronunciation as you get used to the sounds of the language. Another way to immerse yourself is by watching TV in the language. If possible, look for something fairly simple like a soap opera which usually has relatively basic language and a lot of gesturing which can help show what is going on emotionally. When you start to get more comfortable, turn off the subtitles.

The last aspect of immersion may not always be feasible for everyone. It is to find a way to put yourself in a situation where you can only communicate in the language you are learning. A trip somewhere is obviously ideal, but in its place, you might consider trying to find people within your city with whom you can practice. Many cities have cultural clubs that function in their particular language.  A pen pal on computer could be helpful as well.   Consider asking a friend to learn a language with you and practice together as you learn the language. As with most things that need perseverance and continuous work, having a person going through it with you can be a great way to keep motivated (think keeping up with going to gym).

Learning a new language won’t happen overnight but with continuous practice and immersion it can become easier. Here are the key points to learning a new language:

  1. Identify a language goal and look at what barriers real or perceived that you may have used in the past to justify not learning that language.
  2. Set aside time each day to practice. Start small and build up. You can always go longer on days when you feel more inspired, but try not to miss any day even if it means just practicing for 15 minutes.
  3. Identify what your primary learning platform will be.
  4. Immerse yourself
    1. At home with labels, TV and lessons.
    2. In another setting where you don’t have anchors or aids to guide you.

Over the years I have learned three languages and gained a basic understanding of a few others. Any lack of mastery on my part has come entirely from not keeping up with the basic principles of consistent practice and immersion. I believe that immersion is the only true way to really understand a language. Being able to write in a language is just one step, speaking can be far more valuable especially since most of us are not setting out to become translators. A new language is something that can give its speaker the ability to travel more confidently, communicate with more people and hopefully see the world in new ways. Maybe its just my own experience, but every time I learn a new word and find its links in other seemingly unrelated languages (i.e. Slavic vs. Latin base languages) I am amazed. I wonder how that came to be, and what led to this overlap? It allows us to realise similarities where we didn’t imagine them.

Just a little piece on motivation

Motivation can vary hugely based on context, and motivating factors will vary as well which affects our performance in positive or negative ways. In my own situation I find what motivates me at work, school and personal life are very different things but are interconnected since each feeds the other.

  • Work – Motivated by money, extended benefits, vacation pay but also the freedom my job provides allowing me to work from home and to keep a flexible schedule. This is what lets me go back to school and eventually advance in my career.
  • School – This helps with my career advancement and also has a positive impact on how I do my job. Allows me to improve in my current position and to perform to a higher more knowledgeable standard.
  • Personal – Constant learning, creation and creativity, career advancement and doing something worthwhile in life which can leave behind a legacy of sorts for my family/children.

See how these all link together, each motivator leads eventually to some kind of self-actualization. I think ideally our motivations should feed into each other allowing us to make the most of lives, careers and relationships. It can mean a lot of balls in the air, but those ultimately help us. Simple example: Work like balance and health.

  • I do yoga and some meditation – this reduces stress, leading to better work habits. So I am motivated to treat my body well because it allows me to feel better and work better.

Eucalyptus, Thanks.

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Final three “Thank you” spring botanical designs.

One week ago a good friend of mine was married at a beautiful ceremony at Vancouver’s Van Dusen Gardens. Spring plants blooming in all their glory and all the guests were given full day passes to enjoy the gardens, overall a lovely way to spend Victoria Day.

Rewind three months earlier, my friend asked me to make her wedding thank yous. I was honoured, and it spurred a flurry of creativity that ultimately became a bestseller for me. After some discussion, several mock-ups and a  browse of her Pinterest boards I was pretty sure I had the design down.

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Eucalyptus “Thank You” mock-ups and colour testers

Eucalyptus, geometric designs and spring flowers led my designs and eventually brought the three different images that will be going out to guests very soon. This took me back to watercolours which I have not used often over the past ten years as I’m usually working with acrylics. There were quite a few late nights in March and April. Once I got the bug for these I kept going with the flow and more kept coming, not to mention I also signed up for the Etsy Artisans craft fair hosted by my local chapter. It may not seem like too much to accomplish in a month, but I already have a full time job so it required some careful juggling and sourcing of a good printer.

Then suddenly I was getting orders for these cards, and realized some areas of my distribution plan were a bit lacking. I didn’t really have packaging organized, or proper shipping costs, which because problematic when I got an order to ship more than 10,000 km away. I have most of the kinks worked out now, it helped that I discovered I could use my husband’s baking scale to weigh the packages. Needless to say, they have now traveled far across the globe as well as locally and are available through my Etsy page.


Shop Geometric Eucalyptus “Thank you” Cards

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Mother’s Day Russian Dolls

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Ma Matrioshka in progress

Over the Mothers day weekend I took part in my first craft fair. This particular one, hosted by the Victoria chapter of Etsy Artisans and was part of a broader national series of craft fairs happening in May. So, during the month of April I worked through new card plans, doing a few more plant based images and updating my birthday cards.

I was getting stuck for ideas and doodling away when it hit me. I have a set of nesting dolls brought back from Russia by my uncle ages ago on a business trip. I had only just found them again in storage, not to mention my Russian husband though they were beautiful. So I took my inspiration and set it down trying to settle on how best to represent them without directly copying the ones I had. In my initial sketch I had tried to make each doll different, with a sense of personality to each of them. While I think it would have been interesting to do, I ultimately went more simple remember that they are printed to fit on a 4.25 x 5.5 card so most of those features would be lost. Maybe that’s something for a future larger project. So my dolls when through a few phases of design before finally coming to the one below. Although I didn’t sell too many of them at the craft fair they were certainly the one that garnered the most questions and had people stopping at my table to see.

Matrioshka


Shop Matrioshka Cards

 

Is the rain over?

We have started to emerge from January and February, which can feel like an absolute eternity of rain and gray. But we are greeted at this end with high wind, sun and a serious drop in temperature. For the most part I prefer this, but it’s still an ongoing struggle easing out of winter. I base this partly off of how very lazy I have become and how few paintings I have even started let alone finished. But, at last on Saturday I finally got one on the go, and its a sunny colourful one (probably makes sense given what the weather was like for the last month and a half.

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Sunset on a Tofino beach, I’m still not satisfied though. It feels too bright or something.

In my mind there is still a lot of work to be done on the painting but it feels like progress. Not to mention I did some sketches for new cards and started planning out a design schedule for the next year. So all in all, things are on the move again and I blame it on the sun.

These are, I admit, pretty basic but I can tell myself I did something even if I know deep down I need to get more creative with these. sometimes what I really need the simply the practice of drawing or creating something on a more regular basis to get my groove back. We shall see where this takes me.

Make sure to look out for new cards on the Etsy page!